Six Lessons my Five-Year-Old Can Teach You About Selling Books

It was a cold, rainy day and I was at the college where my wife works to meet with an acting student who needed to record an audition for a film role. Although college was in session, the elementary school was closed for the day and so my job after coaching my student was spending time with my five-year-old son.

Those of you who follow me regularly on Twitter (@pauljennynyc) and Facebook often see photos and hear stories about this little boy’s abundant energy, wild craziness and free-flowing imagination. He inspires me to write and to tell stories for a living. Seeing the world through his eyes keeps wonder alive in me. He’s always saying or doing something surprising, silly or even profound and I’m a better person in his presence.

After finishing the coaching session with my student, I came back to the lobby and my son had set himself up behind a low bench that he was using as a table. He had five paper cups festooned with push pins, screws and paper clips with hand written price tags next to each decorated cup.

I knew right away what those cups were. They were Daleks. My son is obsessed with the Daleks from Dr. Who and loves to make models of them with whatever he can get his hands on.

Daleks_appearence

Fair use. Uploaded by Edokter to Wikipedia.

Three of the Daleks had $1.00 price tags. One had a $10 price tag and another cost $1001. Each handmade Dalek pretty much looked like every other one, but he was trying different prices to see what would sell.

LESSON ONE: Try different price structures on your books. Most of them will probably sell at $.99-$2.99 but I think it’s a good idea to put a few of them out there at a higher price. There is even some research to suggest that setting the price higher and then marking that price down during a sale will suggest that the book is a really good deal. You already know that it IS a good deal, but the psychology of the good deal is well-documented.

I asked him why the one Dalek was so expensive. He said, “Well, if someone has that kind of money and really likes Daleks, they might buy it for that much.”

I had to agree with this kind of thinking, but I thought the more expensive Dalek needed something to set it apart so I took a gold paperclip and made it into a kind of antenna for him. I said, “Here put this on the expensive Dalek and say it is a ‘Special Edition’ and then people will think of it differently.”

He grinned from ear to ear and poked a few new holes to put the “golden” paperclip antenna on the special edition Dalek. Now it was different. Now it really was a special edition compared to the other Daleks.

Students wandered by the bench as they were passing from class to class. With each and every student, my son would hop up from behind his table, run over to them with a big smile and say, “Do you want a Dalek?”

The students would come over thinking he was giving them away, but then he showed them the price and their smiles would turn into frowns. Most would say they didn’t have any cash and then walk away. My son started to get frustrated.

I said, “You should always say, ‘Would you like to buy a Dalek?’ that way they know you are selling them and the people who are interested in buying will come over and look at what you’re selling.”

He agreed. He tried it with the next group of students. They were interested and came over to check out the paper cup Daleks.

LESSON TWO: Make sure you let people know you are selling your books. Just putting them on the various sites for sale but then never doing any kind of outreach won’t be very effective. You have to reach out and let people know that you have something they might want. There are may ways to do this without being spammy. By doing some research you can find the best ways to do this for the genre you’re working in.

Those students still didn’t buy. It seems college students don’t carry a lot of cash on them during class. So, I made another suggestion.

“Next time someone comes by, politely say, ‘Excuse me, would you like to buy a Dalek?’ then, when they say, ‘I would like to but I don’t have any cash’, offer to trade them something for the Dalek instead.”

He tried this tactic with the next student – a young man with glasses who was definitely a Dr. Who fan.

“Excuse me, would you like to buy a Dalek?” my son asked.

“How much are they?” The student looked amused and slightly uncomfortable and pushed his glasses back up on his nose.

“This one is $1001 but that is a special edition with a gold antenna. These are only $1.00.”

“That’s a great deal! But I don’t have any cash.”

“Would you be willing to trade something?”

“Let me see…” The young man pulled out his wallet and checked his pockets to see if he had anything he could trade and in doing so, noticed that he did have a dollar.

“Actually, I do have a dollar. Here you go!” The young man handed him a dollar.

My son beamed. He jumped up and down. He waved the dollar in the air.

“Don’t forget to give him his Dalek and say thank you,” I said.

“Oh! Here you go. Thank you!” He handed the young man his Dalek and continued to do the money dance while squealing and leaping around the room.

LESSON THREE: By engaging with your customers you can make more sales. By letting them know there are many ways to purchase what you have to offer you give them lots of opportunities to become a buyer. Being polite by saying “Excuse me” and “Thank you” is always a good practice. Also, money dances are a lot of fun and fill me with joy!

For the next three hours my son asked almost every person who stopped buy if they wanted to either buy or trade something for a handmade Dalek. After awhile he started offering them to buy or trade and his “sales” slowed.

I said, “You should lead with, ‘Would you like to buy a Dalek?’ then if they say they have no cash, offer to trade with them. By giving them too many options right away, they can’t decide and then make no decision at all.”

He thought about this and nodded. Then he started making some drawings to sell. He was getting low on Daleks. The only ones left were the $10 and $1001 Special Edition Dalek.

LESSON FOUR: Giving your buyers too many options all at once is confusing and can cause people to not engage with you. I have a few friends who are selling classes, books, lectures, seminars, workshops and I get so many emails and notices from them that even if I wanted to take part, I wouldn’t know which offer to take because there are so many of them. Some offer free things for participating, some offer discounts if I act by a certain time, but all of them are being offered at once and I get overwhelmed. I know I’d rather just get one solid, convincing offer that is a great deal than tons of offers all at once.

The drawings he made were almost as popular as the Dalek models. He drew a picture of New York City, Dark Vader (he insists that’s what he should be called), tanks fighting, a train, some scribble marks, a page full of ‘W’s and lots of pictures of R2-D2 and BB-8, his newest obsession.

LESSON FIVE: Diversify! You really need more than one book to make any money. Look at what other authors are doing. They are usually busy building up a catalog. The more product you have to offer, the more diverse of an audience you can reach. He needed more than one product to keep people’s interest. Not everyone is into Dr. Who. There were a surprising amount of college students who didn’t know what a Dalek was.

As the day went on he sold four of the five Daleks. (He let the $10 Dalek go for a pen/stylus combination that matched his tablet. Pretty good trade!) The $1001 Dalek went home with us, it was a Special Edition after all.

handmade dalek

He sold or traded all of his drawings. He earned $3.95 in cash, plus a 10p coin and a Danish coin (perhaps a 50 øre). He traded for a green pen with no top, a catalog from Mrs. Fields, a gorilla key chain with no arms that he said had a 3D butthole (turned out to be a small screw in the gorilla’s backside), a half pack of gum, a piece of a sugar cookie, a piece of a brownie cookie, the pen/stylus and a bobby pin to hold his money together.

treasures

Treasure!

At the end of the day, as he was packing up, he gave away all the leftover drawings to his lucky last customer. The money dance was danced many times. He had a great day interacting with people of all ages and backgrounds. He earned enough money to go to the toy store later and buy himself a new toy, but he also learned a very valuable lesson:

LESSON SIX: By creating something from nothing, putting it out there in the world and saying “If you are interested in this, I will trade you something for it” you can have a very rewarding life. There might not be a ton of money involved but you could end up with a bag full of treasure by the end of the day.

If you take these lessons from my five-year-old and apply them to your book sales, you’ll be doing the money dance in no time! Leave a comment if you do. I love hearing from you.

Advertisements

Kurt Vonnegut – Writing Quote Wednesday

Kurt_Vonnegut_1972

I took this Writing Quote Wednesday from Kurt Vonnegut (November 11, 1922–April 11, 2007). I was part of his lost NYU lecture on what it takes to be a writer that was recently posted on Brain Pickings.

I once ran into Mr. Vonnegut at Penn State. He was eating at a table across from me. The way I remember it, he was by himself looking off into the distance almost as if he was thinking up the plot to some new story he was working on or thinking about what kind of drawing he might want to do next.

I wasn’t brave enough to approach him and say hello, but he certainly made an impression on me, sitting there by himself, thinking.

It is even more moving, thinking about that moment, when I read the full quote:

I’ve heard that a writer is lucky because he cures himself every day with his work. What everybody is well advised to do is to not write about your own life — this is, if you want to write fast. You will be writing about your own life anyway — but you won’t know it.

And, the thing is, in order to sit alone and work alone all day long, you must be a terrible overreacter. You’re sitting there doing what paranoids do — putting together clues, making them add up… Putting the fact that they put me in room 471… What does that mean and everything?

Well, nothing means anything — except the artist makes his living by pretending, by putting it in a meaningful hole, though no such holes exist.”

I’m doing some work right now to push through to the next level in my work and my life and one of the techniques I’m using involves drawing what I’m experiencing and then interpreting those drawings to gain insight into the situation. In my last session, which was a few weeks before I saw this quote, one of the drawings I did was of a man with several holes surrounding him. I had no idea what the holes were when I drew them and the man in the drawing had no idea what to do with them either.

Now I know that those holes I drew were meaningful holes to put my pretending in. Those holes do exist. Even though nothing means anything, putting our pretending in those holes is the way we, as artists, make our living.

Penn State English professor Kevin Boon had this to say back in 2007 about Mr. Vonnegut, “If I had to sum Vonnegut the man in one word, I would say he was, in all matters, gracious. If I had to sum his work, I would say that, in the end, the message threading his oeuvre is that people, as a whole, are cruel, but people, on an individual basis, are precious. Team players who are blindly loyal to ideologies are the primary reason the world has experienced so many atrocities (Dresden, Hiroshima, Auschwitz, slavery, racism, sexual intolerance, sexism, greed and the contemporary horrors of Iraq, Katrina, Darfur and so on), while the best results of our presence on Earth — a sonata by Mozart, a painting by Van Gogh, a poem by T.S. Eliot, a statue by Rodin, Gene Kelly dancing, Maria Callas singing — are the result of brilliant individuals producing single, epiphanous moments of beauty in a world that is largely inhumane.”

Just a Quick Update

3863693dc376c569eab69789df73dd6c

Hello, Dedicated Readers of Stories are the Wildest Things.

I’m back. I’ve missed you. I’m here and working hard to bring you the content you expect from this blog.

I’ve been busy putting together two children’s books, getting the five-year-old off to kindergarten, putting on plays, working on films and pounding away at the MG and YA novels I’ve been trying to finish. I’ve also started a Paper.li web paper called Children’s Book News Daily. (<== Check it out by clicking the link.)

Please drop a line to say hello or leave a comment and let me know what you’ve been up to.

You’ll be hearing from me more often from now on.

I appreciate all of the emails, Periscopes, Twitter responses and Facebook posts.

Here’s a quick quote for the day:

step

Stories are truly the wildest things and sometimes we must retreat in order to tell them. Look for more content soon!

Yours in story-telling,

Paul

Disaster Averted

image

Success!

If you follow the blog, you know that I recently went through a terrible computer crash and lost some writing that was really important to me.

I tried everything I could to bring my computer back online and boot it, but nothing worked. I finally bought a hard drive enclosure, removed the hard drive from my Mac, plugged it into the enclosure and connected it to a working Mac.

The blue light came on!

As I plugged the hard drive into the USB port of the other Mac, it showed up as a disk drive. I was able to get almost everything I needed off of the laptop’s drive and onto an 8GB USB key.

I was shocked that I actually had that much to transfer over. I left behind some videos, some voiceover files and other files that if deleted, won’t mean the end of the world.

As soon as everything transferred, I made more back-ups of the files on the USB key by sending them to myself in Gmail.

Then, I finished rehearsal.

After rehearsal I took a run. I’ve been trying to get back into a more healthy routine and when I’ve been running lately it’s been more like run/walking/hobbling. But after getting all the data I needed, I ran for the full half-hour without stopping to walk. It felt good.

The moon was huge in the evening sky over Delaware. I tried to take a photo, but a camera lens doesn’t quite see the way our eyes do, so this photo doesn’t do it justice.

image

What a day. I rehearsed a play, saved my data, went for a run, helped my oldest son with an issue he’s dealing with, and spoke with my wife and youngest son on Facetime. The only thing that could have made it better would have been to have my whole family here with me.

Now I can happily get back to work on my one person show about my dismal days on a big Broadway tour. It’s tough work because it brings up a lot of unpleasantness, but it’s important because I want to tell this story all at one time instead of in bits and pieces as I have over the past few years.

When it’s up and running in New York, I’ll let everyone know. I will probably workshop it a few times upstate before producing it fully in the city.

Thank you for all the kind words from everyone who reached out! Make sure you are backing up your stories! They truly are the wildest things.

The Worst Thing That Could Possibly Happen

internet-typing1

Well, maybe not the worst thing. There are a LOT of terrible things happening in the world right now. The stock market is fluctuating like crazy, monster storms are flooding cities, people are shooting other people instead of talking to them. Those things are the actual worst things that could possibly happen.

But for a writer who’s been off his game for a while and then just starting to get right back on his game, the worst thing that could happen, happened. Right in the middle of some really important writing that I did not back up, my computer just gave up the ghost and went blank on me.

I had just gotten several great pages done on a new solo show I’m working on. This one is big. It’s life changing. I’ve avoided writing this one for years, that’s how close and important it is to me. It’s about my dismal days working on a big Broadway tour and how I almost didn’t survive those days.

I decided to finally sit down and really start working on it because I’m in a hotel room in Newark, Delaware, away from the family to do an acting gig. It’s the perfect set up to get some writing done. I had a few days off because my scenes are all in the second and third acts of the Feydeau farce we’re doing.

I could feel a good idea coming on. So, I paced around the room. I drank some water. I took some notes on a legal pad. LOTS of notes. Suddenly I knew where I would start and what I would call the piece. I opened up OMM Writer (a great writing app) and zen-ed out while I bled words. I got just about as far as I could before I had to go to rehearsal. I was elated and exhausted and excited, all at the same time. (That’s a lot of “e” words, but I guess emotions are somehow tied to the letter “e”.)

I saved my file and closed everything down and went to rehearsal. I thought about backing the file up, but then thought, “What could happen between now and later?”

When I came back to the hotel, I talked with my family for a while on Skype and then decided to watch “Fear the Walking Dead” on AMC.com. I thought of it as “research” because some of my years on the big Broadway tour were like being one of the walking dead.

Everything on the computer was running a bit slowly. The ads were loading strangely, the computer kept freezing up. I thought it was just the crappy internet that the hotel lets you use for free. Then, suddenly, like a zombie jumping out from behind a door, the computer froze up, the screen turned into a bunch of horizontal lines that wavered and shook and then the screen went black.

Uh-oh.

I tried rebooting the computer. It’s an old MacBook Pro. The Apple symbol came up. Good.

Then the screen went black for the video test.
Fine.

Then…the dreaded gray screen hang.

I did some searching on my phone about how I might be able to fix it. I tried rebooting it to safe mode. The computer belongs to a college, so there is a firmware password. I couldn’t boot it. I could just take it back to IT at the college, but it’s over three hours from where I am now. Plus, they might have to wipe everything. I wanted to try to save it first.

So, I tried buying a Thunderbolt cable and booting it as a target disk to another Mac. Nothing.

I tried removing the hard drive and getting an e-SATA cable and hard drive enclosure and plugging it into a PC. Well, the pretty blue drive light comes on, but at the hotel’s PC I have no access to it’s hard drive so I was still out of luck.

I left the hotel and carried the darn thing around campus for several hours looking for a computer. No luck. School is not back in session yet, so no Mac labs are open. I tried the PC lab. No luck there. The library was closed. The classrooms are all antiquated and only have plugs for PC laptops. The bookstore was closed.  I was hoping it was open so I could just walk up to their Mac sales display and plug this thing in. I really want those opening pages.

But it’s not just the pages for the solo show. I was also going to publish my second children’s book this week. Now I can’t. The formatted book is on the Mac.

I was making great progress on another play I’m writing. I can’t work on that either.

I was several pages into a short film we want to shoot this winter. That’s in there, too.

All in all, I’ve put in about 25 hours trying to get this information back. Hopefully, I’ll be able to use the e-SATA cable with a Mac tomorrow and I’ll report back that I was able to recover the information.

If not, I guess I’ll have to try to reproduce what I originally wrote. I know I can get close to it, maybe even make it better. But there’s something about that feeling you get when you just know something is working and it’s good. That kind of experience is hard to repeat.

I guess the moral of the story is ALWAYS back up your writing. Every time. Otherwise, you’ll end up like me, a poor lost soul wandering a huge university campus in search of a Mac computer, hoping that you can either retrieve those pages or remember them just as they were.

Macaronic – Wildest Word of the Day

tricorns

Image by TheBrassGlass on Morguefile.com

When Yankee Doodle went to London riding on his pony, he stuck a feather in his cap and called it – macaroni! As a kid I always pictured Yankee Doodle as an Ichabod Crane type. A tall, skinny guy, his feet dragging on the ground, riding a tiny, exhausted horse with a weary look on its face. In my childhood imagination I saw him wearing a tricorn hat with a giant elbow macaroni sticking out of the top of it like a feather. This image stuck with me for years.

macaroni

Image by MaxStraeten on Morguefile.com

I found out later that macaroni was a term related to foppishness and referred to the tiny tricorn hats on top of the Macaroni wig that the men of the Macaroni Club in Britain wore in the 1700’s. Yankee Doodle was a song of derision aimed at Colonial troops by members of the British Army. The British thought that the Colonials were so unsophisticated that if they put a feather in their caps they would think they were wearing the highest fashion of the day. Later, the Colonials would use the song to mock the British troops when they won.

When I stumbled on the term macaronic, I thought it might have something to do with this. Perhaps it meant anything thought to be sophisticated by a group that actually isn’t sophisticated. (Like velvet paintings at truck stops?) When I did a little more digging I made an interesting discovery.

“Sloth” a painting on velvet by Bruce White

Macaronic refers to a way of mixing two or more languages in a piece of writing for satire or humor. It has derogatory overtones, like the macaroni in Yankee Doodle, so people debate whether it should be used to refer to mixed language in more serious or dramatic literature.

According to Wikipedia, the term comes from the New Latin word macaronicus which in turn was derived from maccarone, a type of dumpling eaten by Italian peasants. It began with a mixing of Latin and vernacular and came about because educated people who knew Latin needed a way of communicating with people who did not speak or read Latin. The term may have come from a comic poem written by Tifi Odasi in the late 1400’s called the Macaronea.

The device of macaronic language is often used in comic films and plays to poke fun at people who fancy themselves to be more sophisticated than they actually are. A good example is Adenoid Hynkel, Dictator of Tomania, Charlie Chaplin’s character in The Great Dictator who speaks in German – English macaronic language and says things like “cheese und cracken” and other similar phrases.

As a certified word nerd, I was really pleased to discover that this device had such a great name. Let me know if you’ve used macaronic language in your own writing or if you’ve discovered any great pieces of macaronic language out there. I’d love to hear from you!

8 Steps to Finding Your Field of Dreams Job? (1. Build it and they will come…)

fieldofdreams

In the 1989 fantasy movie Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner, an Iowa corn farmer hears voices that tell him to build a baseball diamond in his fields. He does and the Chicago Black Sox show up! It’s a great film and was nominated for three Academy Awards.

Because I make my living as a writer and actor (as Wayne Pyle), I often hear, “You’re so lucky, you’re following your dream” or “You’re so lucky, you have a dream job.” I’ve never quite understood what people mean when they say that because my “dream job” is something that I worked hard to build, luck really had nothing to do with it (it sure helps, though).

Like any job, writing and acting are professions that you can prepare for or just jump into and hope for the best. I took the former path and prepared for a long time to do these dream jobs. Like Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, people often think I’m crazy for pursuing these professions. Like Ray, I’ve been on the brink of financial ruin. But by building my path to these professions, people have come and supported me in my dreams.

TheLadders.com inspired this post. I wanted to share my experience pursuing these professions with people who might be looking for a way to break into them right out of school or later in life.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been passionate about performing and telling stories. When I was four, my parents got me on the children’s television program Romper Room. Our local TV affiliate in Philadelphia hosted the show. My best friend, Bobby, and I were on set together. I still have very vivid memories from that experience.

When I was ready to go to real school (instead of TV school), we moved to rural Pennsylvania and there was no internet or cable television back then (gasp). My brother and I would make puppet stages and write plays. We’d play role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons or make up our own worlds. One of my favorites was “Chuck and Mack” where we pretended to be middle-aged guys with jobs. It was absurd and hilarious. I was always creating short stories and comic books. I got in trouble once when I “published” a comic at my junior high school called “Marshmallow Man” about an overweight bully who just happened to have the same name as the real overweight bully who was always picking on me in class.

We moved from rural Pennsylvania to a small town in Pennsylvania and I kept pursuing acting and writing. I went to undergrad at Susquehanna University where I pursued a Communications/Theatre Arts degree with a minor in Writing. I worked for the literary journal, wrote for the school newspaper (mostly parody essays) and did as much acting as I could. The school wasn’t giving me the professional training experience I wanted, so I pursued an apprenticeship at a professional theatre company called The Actors Theatre of Louisville. It was a well-known program and difficult to get into. I was accepted as a junior, but when they found out how young I was, they wouldn’t take me. They made me wait until I was a senior in college. I had to audition again, and this time I got in. I couldn’t afford to pay for the year away, so I convinced the college president that doing an apprenticeship at an established theatre company was the same as study abroad and that they should give me college credit while I was there.

It worked! I wrote plays and poetry for my writing minor and completed my theatre credits by keeping a journal of all the amazing work I was doing at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. I met some amazingly talented playwrights and I got to act in their plays. The theatre produced one of my monologues and a ten-minute play. It was a great experience.

When the apprenticeship was over, I moved to Chicago. The Second City was where I wanted to be. Chicago is an amazing place to do theatre. There was so much energy and excitement. I worked with a lot of small companies. One company, The Griffin Theatre, was also a place to produce new work. They included my ten-minute play in a short plays festival and I also became an actor in their company. Bailiwick Repertory was another company I worked for often. They produced a full-length children’s play that a group of us wrote together called, The Forest of Arden. It was a choose your own adventure play. At certain points we would ask the audience which action the main character should choose. We would then do that action and the story would change slightly. Most of the work I did in Chicago was because of relationships I built over time with actors, writers and producers.

I also had the wonderful opportunity of being on another children’s television show, The Magic Door. It was shown on early Sunday mornings, so my friends who were out partying late on Saturday would often call me and leave drunken messages on my answering machine. “Hey, saw you playing a screenwriting monkey on the Magic Door! Hilarious! I’m going to bed now. Zzzzzzz.”

I was also writing a lot of poetry in Chicago and participating in open mics. That was quite an experience. Dive bars would hold open mics and the barflys and the poets would be a little family for the evening. One of my poems, Sometimes: The Coat Closet,  was picked by the city for a program called Dial-a-Poem Chicago. It was advertised all over the city. People would call the poetry line and hear the poet read their poem. For some reason, a suburban Chicago housewife called the line and thought my poem was offensive. She called a local radio station and they played my poem about 10 times on the air. The usual call rate for Dial-a-Poem was 80 people. That week, my poem got 8,000 calls. I was “viral” before anyone knew what that meant. The famous Chicago Tribune columnist, Mike Royko, did a column about my poem. I felt like a real Windy City native.

Not long after that incident my mother died of lung cancer. Distraught, I decided to move from Chicago back to the East Coast to get into grad school for acting. That’s where I’m originally from and where my dad lives. I auditioned for and got into the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program, known as the PTTP. It was training in the classics, Shakespeare in particular. It was three years of intense training in movement, voice, speech and acting but it also made me a better writer. Saying Shakespeare’s words all day instilled a sense of rhythm and rhetoric that I might not have gotten without that training. We also did an exercise cutting full-length plays into 10-minute versions. Every summer we’d get jobs at Shakespeare festivals around the country. I had the opportunity to work at the Wisconsin and Utah Shakespearean Festivals, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival and a small festival in Rhode Island. I still do a lot of Shakespeare, mostly playing the clowns, my favorite roles. They now have a REP company and I get to go back and perform with them occasionally.

I graduated and stayed in Delaware, doing various temp jobs in the banking industry. The internet was just starting to boom back then and I found opportunities to write online. I would write book reviews and post them online. I didn’t know anything about blogs back then. I applied to Prestwick House Publishing as a writer for their educational series of Side by Sides. I would take a Shakespeare play and write a more contemporary translation next to Shakespeare’s words. I was also hired by Dupont-Merck to write a few industrial scripts for some important programs they were running. At the time, I was getting paid more to write scripts than I was to act in them.

I also worked as an assistant to a magician touring with a magical children’s show. We went all over the country and even traveled to Taiwan. I built some relationships with the producers in Taiwan and offered to bring them a show from my theatre company (that didn’t exist yet). They said, “Thank you.” I thought I’d never hear from the them again. About a year later, I got a call from Taiwan. They would like us to bring Hamlet to Taiwan. I instantly started a theatre company called The American Shakespeare Theatre Company and recruited actors from all over the US, mostly grads from the PTTP. I convinced the grad school to let us use their space to rehearse. I hired my friend, Ty Jones, as Hamlet and Robert G. Anderson as our director. We rehearsed the show and took it Taiwan with a videographer from The Sundance Channel. The documentary we produced about this crazy production, Within a Play, was shown on Sundance for two seasons.

My next stint was as a proofreader for First USA, a credit card company that later became Bank of America. I’d go into this darkened room and sort through stacks and stacks of papers with teeny, tiny print on them talking about how the rates worked and all the legal jargon and I’d proofread it until my eyes were almost falling out of my head. I was auditioning in New York City and living in Wilmington, Delaware at the time. I was hoping to get a break from all the mindless proofreading when I got a call from my agent that they were auditioning for the musical, The Lion Kingfor their first national tour. I auditioned. Five times. My friend from Hamlet, Ty Jones, was the reader and would tell me what the producers were saying about me in the auditions so I could adjust my performance. The last audition was just after 9/11. Acrid smoke was still billowing from the holes in the ground as I rode the Greyhound bus into the city. After my final audition, I went downtown and walked among the debris and hundreds of flyers looking for lost, and most likely dead, loved ones. I developed a hacking cough from the smoke. It was not a good time for the United States.

A few weeks later, I found out I got the job as Ed the hyena, understudying Timon and Zazu. I was about to live my dream. I was going on tour with a big Broadway musical. We rehearsed downtown at 890 Broadway, the big rehearsal studios for all the Broadway shows. Julie Taymor was there. The teams of producers and costumers and directors and choreographers were there. It was intense. People got fired the first few days. My knees were sore from climbing stairs and practicing being a hyena. I had to ice my hands from all the puppet work we were doing. Eventually, we made our way out to Denver, Colorado to start the tour. I stayed with the tour for five years. It was an amazing experience. I had my ups and downs (I’ll write about those in another post). I traveled the country and the world. Eight shows a week, 50 weeks a year, I worked on The Lion King.

I did a bit of writing while I was on tour, but mostly what I did was act. I taught myself video production and sound editing. When I got off the road, I moved back to the city. Not long after, the economy tanked. There was no work of any kind. I moved up north to the beautiful Hudson Valley to skydive and garden. I lived right next to a community college and convinced them to let me teach in the Communications/Theatre Department. I taught acting for the camera and script writing for film and television.

I had never actually worked in the production end of a television studio, but when they hired me, I taught myself how to run the equipment so I could teach the classes. The students came up with some really great writing and we also made some very funny videos based on their stories. That job ended and I started teaching in the Communications and Theatre Arts departments at one of the SUNY colleges. I was acting in small theatre companies and lots of independent films, writing for academia, teaching and traveling. I started a small film/television production company and voiceover business with my wife. We have a film casting business as well. But I missed the creative writing I had done.

I started writing fiction and short stories again and got into self-publishing about a year ago. That’s when I started my blog and started listening to Sterling and Stone’s Self-publishing Podcast. They did this great project called Fiction Unboxed and wrote a steampunk novel, The Dream Engine, in 30 days. I followed along with their process and learned a lot about how they worked together. I contributed to an anthology of steampunk stories inspired by The Dream Engine called Beyond the Gate and started working on a novel-length story based on the world of The Dream Engine. I’m also writing, illustrating and publishing children’s books through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. It’s been quite a journey.

This blog chronicles that journey. I’ve been fortunate to be able to tell many stories in my life and I’ve found that Stories are the Wildest Things.

So, what are the takeaways from my long and varied career?

  1. If you want a “dream job” you have to build it and trust that they will come. Instead of thinking you have to “get” a job, think about how you can “create” a job.
  2. Keep looking for opportunities, don’t wait for someone to call you. You have to be active in the pursuit of your dreams.
  3. Do apprenticeships or internships. Find a way to afford it. If there aren’t any apprenticeships for the type of job you want, create one by funding a project through crowdfunding.
  4. Do as many different jobs as you want to. You never know which one is going to be the one you want to stick with. You might never want to stick with one. The freelance life is challenging, but you’re rewarded with a lot of freedom and many amazing experiences.
  5. Sometimes you have to convince people to help you in your journey. They get just as much out of helping you as you get from asking them to help.
  6. Persistence pays off. Five auditions and almost a year later, I got the job.
  7. Use the internet as a tool for finding work and building relationships. Be careful about going down too many internet rabbit holes. That happens to me a lot. But if you do, use the information you find in some way.
  8. Building relationships is one of the most important things you can do to build a career. Almost every “dream job” I’ve had has happened because of relationships I’ve built over the years.

Please leave me a message in the comments about how you are pursuing your dream career. Also, let me know whether you’ve stopped by TheLadders.com to check out their site. I’d love to hear from you!

Rainy Days and Mondays

rainymonday

©2015 Paul Jenny

I’m a big fan of petrichor, that smell of rain after a period of dry weather. I also like Mondays. They are the beginning of a week filled with so many possibilities. So, rainy Mondays are something I’m particularly fond of, especially this Monday.

It’s quiet here in upstate New York and I’m getting some good work done today. I’m working as a full-time creative. It’s an opportunity that I’m grateful for.

My schedule feels a bit overwhelming now. I have four scripts to memorize as an actor, two for stage, two for film. I’m working on promoting my children’s book, “Thank You, Bear!” for Earth Day (It’s FREE April 20, 21, 22. Please download and leave a review!) and I’m finishing up another picture book, “Silly Animals Saying Silly Things” and trying to get the drawings done.

I’m about to teach a six-week adult acting class with eleven students and I’m gathering my materials in order to give them the best possible experience. There’s a lot of material to cover in six weeks. They’ll even get to perform for some casting directors at the end of the class.

I’m also starting a new business with my wife producing voiceover demos for actors and I’m opening in a musical this week after only a week-and-a-half of rehearsal. It’s the first time I’m doing a musical since getting out of a big Broadway touring company nine years ago. I was a little burned out by that experience and vowed not to do a musical for a long time. (That’s a story for another blog post.)

But this musical is so universally appealing that I gave in and auditioned. I’m glad I did. I love a good a challenge and trying to stage a musical in a week-and-a-half brings me back to my days as a young actor doing Summer Stock. We’d rehearse one musical in a week-and-a-half, open that musical, then rehearse another one during the day and perform at night, then when that one was open, we’d do it one more time. Three musicals in a row. I thought I’d never learn all the music, lines and choreography, but I did. I survived. Thrived even. The shows were popular and the producers made money. It was a great experience that helped me grow as a young performer. I’m grateful to have that opportunity again. Who knows? I might just do another musical after this one.

So here I am, on a rainy Monday in upstate New York, acting, singing, drawing, writing, filmmaking and blogging. I can’t wait to see what the week brings. Thank you for sharing in my journey. Please tell me what you are looking forward to this week.

Stories are the Wildest Things

Paul

WordPress Anniversary – One Year Later!

Wayne Pyle Portrait003

This is wild. It’s my one year anniversary on WordPress and it’s been an amazing year of change and growth.

I wanted to take a moment to say, “Thank You!” to everyone who follows and reads Stories are the Wildest Things. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to share my experiences and challenges as a writer with each of you. I appreciate each story you’ve shared and I’m moved by them. Please continue to share them with me.

As I move forward with the blog, I’m going to continue to share more insights I discover as a writer and more information about what is going on in my life as well. I also want to help others who are seeking to express themselves in the most powerful way they can. If you know someone who needs a little guidance, encouragement or just a virtual hug or high-five, let me know.

Through this blog and Twitter, I’m part of a great online community of writers and other creatives who are out there making things happen everyday and I’m proud to know them. I’ve listed them here so that you can get to know them as well.

Please stop by their websites and Twitter pages and tell them Paul Jenny sent you!

(If I left someone off this list, please send me a quick email pauljennynyc@gmail.com and let me know. I’ll add you to the list!)

@adamdreece                  @hull_libraries 

@soelver                           @Blunderbuss_W 

@debivsmith                     @TanyaMMDash   

@DebbieORiley                @Rowaenthe 

@mrubinsteinCT               @shanonaryder 

@alecwriter120                 @benswoodard 

@auskp69                         @cunninghamb103 

@Laurencelau10               @JacyBrean 

@nikostar                          Kate Loveton

@MRSDBOOKS                WCCunningham

@blacklily_f                       Deborah J. Brasket

@jessstites                        Moosha23 

@AuthorAngelaS               Ksenia Anske

@WilliamMeikle                @MeirKalmanson

Thank you for your guidance, friendship and support! Here’s to another wonderful year of telling the wildest stories in as many ways as we can! Thank you for being here.

Paul

How To Write & Publish a #1 Bestselling Children’s Book to Amazon in a Weekend (Sort of…)

Thank You Bear COVER FINAL

The title of this post was the promise made by a recent free webinar I did recently. One of the people responsible for the “Chicken Soup for the (fill in profitable niche group here) Soul” publishers sponsored the webinar. Like most of these free webinars, it was well presented and had some great information, but I think the title, “How To Write & Publish a #1 Bestselling Children’s Book to Amazon in a Weekend” is a bit misleading.

The thing about these free webinars  is that they are part of a “funnel” to pull people in with an offer of something for free and then, at the end of the presentation, they offer a class or service (or classes and services together) that they say is worth in $2000-$3000 range (or more). When they hook you with the price of how much everything would cost separately, they cut it a few times to around $300 (give or take). It reminds a bit of the late, great Billy Mays of infomercial fame saying, ‘But wait, there’s more!”

Just to be clear, this is not a post about trashing these free webinars. I want to share my experience of trying out the information without buying the product offered at the end. I don’t know how much money the publishers make running these free webinars, but it seems like a great way of making extra income that also drives people to your books. If you get 100 people to pay $300 for the product, you make a nice paycheck. If anyone has run one of these and has numbers they would like to share, please contact me.

Most of the free “Write a Best-Seller Quickly” webinars I’ve participated in give the same basic information over and over:

  1. Do research on Amazon.com in the niche you want to write in. Then do a mashup, i.e. Something that is popular mashed-up with something else popular to make a new thing. This one takes a video game that is popular and mashes it up with the “Diary of a Wimpy” kid series.
  2. Write and publish your book. (Made to sound easy!!!)
  3. Drive people to the site and have a free offer to develop an email list.

The offer was for a lot of videos, a website for support, a promotional group, phone coaching and seemed like a great deal, but I didn’t take them up on it. I wanted to see if I could actually write and publish a children’s book in a weekend.

So I hopped in the shower, where I usually go to get good ideas for books, and when I came out, I had an idea. I did the Amazon research, but wasn’t ready to try a mash-up just yet. It seemed like animal books about bears were doing pretty well, so I went to Morguefile.com, a site that has licensed photos that anyone can use for free as long as they transform them into something else. I searched for photos of bears and other animals.

While searching, a little story started to form. The photos of the Sun Bear showed him being very expressive. He was a cute bear and I thought, “What if the Sun Bear was always being asked questions by the other animals?” Then, when Sun Bear answers them, they say, “Thank you,” and he says, “You’re welcome.”Definitely not a novel length story, but it seemed like a charming way to teach little ones about that concept and the photos were gorgeous and already licensed.

By that paragraph it seems that, “Bam!” I had a children’s book. But, no!

I had to gather all the photos and format them properly, write the rhymes for the story with pacing and rhythm that worked, bring in repetitive elements, find software that would compile the book, design a cover, write the front matter and back matter and put it all together, sign up for a Kindle Direct Publishing account and THEN publish the book.

It’s a LOT more work than it seems and this was a fairly simple picture book.

So, I gathered my photos and put them in different orders. When a photo didn’t work, I looked for others that did. Like I said, Morguefile.com is a free site, so some of the photos are brilliant and some are rubbish, you have to really search to find consistent quality. All of the photos I found were bright and clear with the animals doing dynamic things. That took about two days.

In the meantime, I wrote the copy. I edited the copy about 8-10 times for clarity, rhythm and rhyme. I kept trying to find just the right rhythms for a read aloud book. That took about 3 or 4 days to get right. My son, Willoughby, who is five, was a big help with this.

Then there was the software. I downloaded Amazon’s Kindle Kids’ Book Creator software from their site. It’s easy to use, but the user interface doesn’t have a lot of explanation. It took me several tries to figure out how to place text on the pages, how to keep the photos looking clear and how to add clickable links.

When I had the pictures and words of the book assembled, which took about three days or so, I wrote the front matter and back matter and tried to add links. The front matter was the copyright and title page, the welcome letter and the dedication page. My mother-in-law, who was like a mother to me, passed away recently, so I dedicated the book to her. Then I found a great quote from Dr. Seuss that seemed right, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

I wanted to include fun animal activities and interesting facts about the animals in the book, too. It took a few more days to come up with the animal activities and then I had to research the facts about the animals. I finished these two pages, then added a few “thank you’s” on the back page.

I also wanted clickable links in the front and back matter, so I spent hours trying to figure out how to make this work. I went to the Forums for help, but the help varied and kind of explained what was going wrong. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t seem to get it to work. I finally stumbled on what I thought was the solution and tried that.

Then I designed and built a cover about 10 times. No matter what I did to the cover, it still ended up looking blurry when I uploaded the book to the Kindle Previewer. It looked fine as a thumbnail, but there is still something wrong with this part of the book. If anyone knows a solid solution to this, please contact me at pauljennynyc@gmail.com.

I signed into Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon and went through the process to upload the book. I wrote copy for the landing page, describing ” Thank You, Bear!” and how the AGAIN, AGAIN books are meant to be read over and over so that children learn the words and concepts in the book.

When I finally checked all the proper boxes and figured out exactly what Amazon was asking for, I hit the PUBLISH button!

I now had a book on Amazon. Wow!

But it was a LOT more than just  a weekend. I took the free webinar on April 1 (no joke). I hit publish on April 6. Not too bad, but definitely more than a weekend.

I let the book be out there for a while before I ran a giveaway and invited friends and family to download the book for free.

They responded and left amazing reviews which drove “Thank You, Bear!” to #1 in ebooks for kids for Bears and Manners! The other benefit was I got to reconnect with a lot of friends I hadn’t spoken with in a long time. All of their news started showing up in my Facebook feeds since I had invited them to my virtual book launch.

After putting the book out there for several days, I realized there were a few problems with the book. The number one problem was the lack of clickable links. A good friend, the illustrator Anita Søelver, reached out to help.

After about 10 hours of searching forums, trying different things, she was able to find an article that showed how you had to REMOVE code from the page, not ADD anything to it. I finally had clickable links. We still haven’t figured out the cover issue.

So for about three or four days after I published the book, I was still tweaking things to make it better. Total time working on the book? I’d say about a week and a half, working on it part-time, three or four to five or six hours a day.

Conclusion:

You can write and publish a children’s book fairly quickly on Amazon with their Kindle Kids’ Book Creator, but it helps to have a knowledgeable community surrounding you that can help you when you get stuck. I think it might have been easier if I’d decided to sign up for the class, but then I would’ve added a few weeks to the process while I learned the information, processed it, and figured it out. I wanted to just jump in there and do it. I haven’t done a mash-up title yet, but I want to try that as well. I’ll post the results here.

I do have several more children’s books almost ready to go, but I’m taking a bit more time this time through. I want to avoid the constant updating of titles, descriptions, and covers that I went through the first time. If you ever need any advice or help, feel free to reach out to me. Here’s the next book’s cover:

SillyAnimalsCover

As always, I’d love to hear from anyone else about their experience of trying to publish something quickly. Please leave a comment and tell us all about it.

If you made it this far, I’d love it if you downloaded “Thank You, Bear! An AGAIN, AGAIN Book” and left a review. It’s only $1.99 right now. I’m running another FREE giveaway April 20, 21 and 22 for Earth Day. Just click the book cover to go to the page. Thank you!

Thank You Bear COVER FINAL